Monday, March 14, 2016

Spring Break!

Last week was Justin's spring break, and originally we had this great idea of leaving the moment he got out of class (which never happens) and then taking a road trip all the way to San Antonio to visit John and Michelle.  Justin had the route all mapped out and we were very excited about it, and then it occurred to us to check our drill schedule, and that put an end to our plans.  Irritatingly enough drill was last weekend too, and we no longer had the time for that long of a road trip.  So instead we decided to plan a trip to somewhere...really anywhere warm.

I lobbied hard for Thermopolis, Wyoming.  It's not a particularly warm destination, but the hot springs sound amazing.  Justin says he wants to save that for fall break...so stay tuned for that one (I think it's going to be great!).  Instead, we found a perfect destination in Palm Springs, California.  It was supposed to be warm and sunny the entire time, and there were rooms available in the timeshare.  We went to book it and we both felt terrible about it.  Everything in us told us that it was a bad idea.  We regrouped and settled instead for two nights in Page, Arizona, and the last two in St. George, Utah.  The weather predictions there weren't quite as enticing, but good enough.  We booked the trip.

Justin is the planner, I am not.  Usually Justin tells me to let him know if there is anything on the trip that I'm really eager to do or see, and then he works it in and does all the rest of the planning.  I love being married to this man.  It's like having a built in tour guide everywhere we go.  He spends hours sifting through information to find the best things to do and see.  He plans an itinerary and learns all about the places we are going and then slowly disseminates this information to me throughout the trip.  Every now and again we have an incident like the desert museum on our last trip, or the hike in Hawaii, but for the most part he's exceptionally good at this stuff.  However, for this trip my tour guide was bogged down with midterms and drill beforehand, and the planning and preparation that went into it was next to nothing.  That ended up being perfect though.  A few days before we left we learned that Justin's Great Great Aunt Joyce had passed away and her funeral was being held in St. George the same time we would be there.  We were booked into the timeshare, and the only units available had been the two bedroom, so we were able to offer to have his parent's drive down and stay with us there for the funeral.

Monday morning after drill we set out in our rental car for Page, Arizona.  Neither of us have ever been there so we had really no expectations.  The drive was beautiful.  Page is so much smaller than I had expected, but that's not a bad thing.  Not until it came to using the internet anyway.  The hotel had a sign up in the lobby apologizing in advance for the crappy internet and stated that it's a problem throughout Page.  Good to know.  After a few very frustrating attempts on the internet to search for a place to eat dinner, we finally settled on an establishment that we discovered upon our arrival isn't opened on Mondays and Tuesdays.  So we opted for our second choice, a rather pricey, but fantastic and delicious Mexican restaurant called El Tapatio that served us our fajitas by bringing the plate to the table, dousing the entire plate in alcohol and then lighting it on fire.  Vivian was sincerely alarmed with the flaming plate of food, but as I stated before, it was excellent.  We would go back, but next time it will be some day when we are a little bit richer.  We went back to the hotel after dinner and made a few futile attempts to use the internet to research what to do the next day.  Then we just gave up and packed it in for the night and went to sleep.

Justin woke up early the next morning and had a lot more success with the internet while all the other guests were sleeping.  By the time Vivian and I were awake and rolling he had a plan for the day.  See, he still pulls through for us even with limited resources.  Initially we had both wanted to do Antelope Canyon.  You've seen pictures.  You might not think you have, but you have.  It's one of the most photographed places on the planet.  However, it's also on Indian land, and the Navajo won't let you go there without a tour guide.  A part of me understands that they need to use this crappy farming land anyway they can to make a buck, and the other part is ticked off that they charge $40/per adult and $20 for anyone 0-12.  Yeah, Vivian isn't free, and that's the part that I find to be a little over the top, but whatever.  So after some deliberation we determined that we are not interested in paying $100 for an experience that she won't remember and we think we will end up repeating with her at a future point in time.  Instead we'll just wait and do it with her when she is bigger.  I don't know if this is the best choice, but it is the one that we made.  As an alternative activity Justin found out about another hike that the Navajo only charge $12/per adult, children are free, to hike.  It's not as deep as Antelope Canyon, and therefore apparently less impressive, but we determined to settle for that for the time being.  It's called Water Hole Canyon, and it was beautiful, we had it mostly to ourselves, and it was well worth the $24 fee.
Getting ready to head down into the canyon.  I had to carry her on this trip because Justin's ankle is still healing. 

She loved it whenever I would stop to let her touch the canyon walls.

Right before the canyon starts to narrow.









Near the end of the hike was this ladder, pictured above.  The two ladders were tied together with bailing wire, and neither of them were bolted into the canyon wall.  We might have been willing to risk it on our own, but with Vivian it becomes a different story.  I think I made it up two rungs before I decided that whatever was up there at the top wasn't worth risking having my baby's head slammed against a canyon wall if this thing decided to slide to one side and dump us.  So for us, this was the end of the hike.  We're pretty sure that there wasn't much to look at beyond this point anyway, but I suppose that we can't be certain.  

After hiking back out we loaded up and made the two hour drive out to Monument Valley. 
Getting ready to load up for the drive out there.  We let Vivian out to stretch her legs a bit.

Our first glimpse of Monument Valley
Monument Valley is also on Indian land, so it's a $20 charge for vehicles of up to six passengers to take the 17 mile scenic drive.  It was very pretty, and worth the fee.  However, the pamphlet they give you when you drive through the toll booth at the entrance is disgraceful.  The person that wrote it does not have command of the English language.  I don't claim to be an expert on grammar, and my use of commas is an ongoing source of amusement to my husband, but I can complete a sentence.  That writer could not.  Furthermore the map of named overlooks along the way did not correspond to the actual overlooks.  We saw everything, but not in the order we were expecting, which left us in kind of a constant state of confusion throughout the drive, and frankly enraged my part Indian husband who had plenty of unkind remarks to make about the situation.  I was fascinated with the Indian jewelry that was being peddled at every overlook, but since they took all of our remaining cash at the entrance booth, standing there with fascination is about all that I could do.  The horses in Monument Valley made me sad.  Very sad.  Does PETA know about this place?  My guess is no.  I didn't know that horses hooves could overgrow like that.  Turns out they can, and it is very disturbing.   However, the so-called valley (it's not actually a valley) is very beautiful, and we enjoyed the scenic drive.




I think this was our favorite overlook
After that we made the two hour drive back, to the hotel in Page.  Vivian was such a good sport all day, but the last little portion of the drive she started to lose it.  We sang Eensy Weensy Spider and Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree over and over again to keep her happy until we got back.  Justin dropped us off at the hotel.  Vivian and I cruised through the hotel hallways while he went out to fetch dinner.  He ended up purchasing dinner at a restaurant called Paco's Taco Shop that we had initially mistaken for El Tapatio the night before (they're right next door to each other and the signage was kind of confusing...or we're just idiots) and wandered around surveying their menu for a few minute before we realized that we were in the wrong restaurant.  As it turns out, Paco's Tacos is also delicious, not quite as delicious as El Tapatio, but much kinder to our bank account.

The next morning we ate breakfast, checked out of the hotel and struck out on a little hike in Page called Horseshoe Bend Overlook.  So my outfit...it's ridiculous.  I know this.  I just don't care.
 
Believe me, parading about the hotel breakfast area in this get up got me all kinds of stares and weird looks.  As it turns out, my combat boots make great hiking boots, and they're more comfy than my hiking boots that are starting to fall apart.  I decided to wear them, regardless of the fact that I looked ridiculous and everyone who saw me in this outfit stared at me in a "what is wrong with her" kind of way.  Justin is used to my tacky hiking outfits, so he's kind of past the point that he even notices the stares anymore.  Besides that, people on the trail were always judging him for strolling along beside me lugging our baby on my back.  We were quite a sight.

She likes to periodically lean over and try and hug me while we hike.  It's very cute.

Horseshoe Bend Overlook
Following that hike we left Page, Arizona and headed back towards St. George.  We stopped a little ways out of town to try and visit a BLM visitor's center for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, that irritatingly enough just isn't open on Wednesday's...naturally.  For no apparent reason, since some guy came out and kind of snapped at me that they were closed when I tried the door.  I can't fathom why the place is closed if it's still staffed, but either way, we're pretty unimpressed with the BLM's visitor's centers.  We continued on to a trailhead to a short hike called the Toadstools.  
Vivian and I at the base of one of the features along this trail. 
This and the others that follow are because I think that my baby girl is adorable.




Justin and a toadstool.
The toadstools trail was pretty short so we still had time to drive on to Coral Pink Sand Dunes where I was tortured lugging myself and Vivian through the impossibly soft sand all the way up to the top of the biggest sand dune.  I was greeted at the top by a wind that made the experience feel a bit like being trapped in a massive sand blaster.  I lingered there for only a brief few minutes before retreating back to a wind protected area between the dunes.  We took Vivian out of the backpack, and it seemed that she was instantaneously coated in pink sand.  Actually it's more orange than pink.  That being said, it is a very beautiful place. 
 
Taking a break part way up the dune.


It was like a giant sandbox for Vivian.



Those little pigtails retained an astonishing amount of sand.

We have read elsewhere that the dunes can be very disappointing because they are completely open for ATV's.  However, being there in the middle of a weekday in March we saw only two ATV's there, and once they saw us they left that side of the park and we had the entire dune to ourselves, which was very pleasant.  We thoroughly enjoyed this park, but I can see how it would just be a frustrating, and even semi-dangerous experience for someone trying to explore them on foot during a summer weekend.

After a couple of hours of throwing sand around we dusted ourselves off as best we could and then continued on to St. George.  We drove through the Zion tunnel, which we've never done together, and arrived at our timeshare early enough that we were able to shower and leave for dinner before Justin's parents arrived to meet us at the restaurant.  

Thursday morning we went with Justin's parents to meet his dad's sisters Kristen and Susan, who drove in from Cedar City for breakfast (Great Great Aunt Joyce was a relative on his mother's side).  After that we attended the viewing.  We were getting ready to leave with the funeral procession (or convoy as my husband called it) when we discovered that Vivian had a dirty diaper.  It was one of those terrible experiences that I imagine every mother has had from time to time where nothing seems to go right.  There was no changing table, we decided to use the counter.  The counter was a tiny bit short causing the dirty diaper to accidentally plummet to the floor and a hard little poop rolled out onto the floor.  Vivian was overdue for a nap and was squalling and wiggling all over.  I thank my lucky stars nobody came in to find me in there with my half-naked toddler perched on the counter top while I tried to contain her, change the diaper, and address the mess we'd created, and do it all as fast as I could so we could get to the graveyard before the services started.  It was a complete fiasco.  Great times.  Mission accomplished.  We made it, and I assume nobody that doesn't read about it here would ever know how that went for us.  Following the graveside services we attended a luncheon and then a dinner that night for family that was in town for the services.  It was great.  Not at all what we had in mind when we first booked the timeshare, but one rarely plans for these sorts of things.  The next morning we went to breakfast with Justin's parent's, Grandma, Great Aunt, and Aunt  and Uncle before we all said our goodbyes and we went our separate ways.

Justin and I returned to Orem where we spent the next night with my parents, and intended on driving home the next morning, but instead spent the day outside in the Hexberg's backyard while Vivian wore herself down to a grumpy little mess playing with her cousins.  When she was too exhausted to even muster much of a goodbye we set off for home and made it most of the way there before one of our cars broke down and had to be towed the rest of the way back to Logan in the seemingly never ending car drama that has plagued us now for months.  St. George was 80 degrees, it snowed this morning in Logan.  Although the homecoming wasn't what we had hoped, the trip was and we're already plotting out our next little adventure.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Trying to Thaw Out

When I was a college student it felt like Christmas break was very short, too short.  However, as it turns out Utah State grants their students an astonishing 3 weeks of reprieve from their studies.  When this was called to our attention Justin and I decided that this was clearly an invitation for us to be out taking a road trip.  We determined that our winter road trips to the desert last year went so well that we should give that another go.  We booked ourselves in for a conservative three days in the timeshare in Tucson.

Naturally, the moment we got outside of the cancellation time frame disaster struck and we found ourselves shelling out money hand over fist to keep our cars running.  There's nothing quite as irritating as car repairs.  I don't know if others feel this way, but when I've already dumped a ton of money into acquiring a vehicle, and operating the vehicle, and insuring the vehicle and conducting routine maintenance on the vehicle, having to dump even more into fixing it just feels like an injustice.  That being said, the trip was booked, some money was already paid, and we decided that we might as well still take this vacation.  Besides, we were very excited about seeing Saguaro National Park.

The first leg of our trip was a short drive from Orem to Las Vegas, well Henderson to be more specific.  We made pretty good time, got checked into our hotel and enjoyed cruising through the halls with Vivian to get her some exercise after the long car ride, and to wear her down a little before bed.  She seemed exhausted when we finally called it a night.  I was therefore somewhat surprised when she didn't sleep well that night, and woke up several times crying and upset.  The next morning she seemed fine, all be it a little tired.  We got packed up and headed downstairs for breakfast.  Standing in the breakfast area with my baby I was completely caught off-guard when she suddenly started vomiting all over the floor, and of course in her alarm over the situation could not be persuaded to stand still and just ralph in one area, but rather deposited three or four pools of barf on the floor.  It was quite upsetting for both of us.  Probably for the hotel staff that acted as though it was a no big deal as well.  After that she seemed her usual self, and we stupidly allowed her to consume a few Cheerios before we got on the road.

Vivian promptly fell asleep in the back of the car, and we had driven for a couple of hours when we heard her throwing up in her carseat.  Justin pulled over, we did some wetwipe cleaning (wetwipes are one of the greatest inventions of all time), and were able to continue on our way (twice as grateful for the windfall of having a rental car with leather seats).  This time I was seated next to her armed with a small styrofoam bowl, that was unfortunately put to use before we were able to find a gas station to stop at and purchase ziplock baggies to replace the styrofoam bowl.  We used one of those, and for the most part we spent the day in the back of the car with her and I dozing, and me rationing her little sips of water.  By the time we arrived in Tucson I was wondering if we should have
taken this trip after all.  Lucky for us, once she was released from the car she seemed to be recovered.

Our first morning in Tucson Vivian woke up acting like she was 100%.  We decided to head straight to the National Park and start the day off with a scenic drive, and a small ecology walk/hike.


 After that we read about a four and a half mile hike that held particular appeal to us because you get to see a Cristate cactus, which is actually a Saguaro cactus with a genetic mutation that occurs in approximately one in 50,000 cacti.  We were very excited about this opportunity.  So, despite the rain clouds overhead, we blasted up the trail, ignoring the sign-in sheet for visitors hiking in the "backcountry."

To our delight, we did in fact see a Cristate cactus, and it was just as spectacular as one might suspect.



We were thrilled.  After snapping way too many pictures we continued down the trail for some distance when Justin noticed that Vivian was missing a shoe.  We had a small disagreement about who should go back for the shoe, but Justin won and said that it should be him because he is faster.  He handed me the baby carrier and darted back down the trail.  I struggled along with the baby carrier for a bit, but had to stop twice to make adjustments because it was adjusted to Justin's frame and not mine.  When I finally got it to where it was relatively comfortable I could see Justin jogging along the trail towards us a little ways away, and I figured he'd catch back up in just a few minutes.  He dropped from sight for a second, I figured the trail took a dip, and I forged ahead.
A picture I stopped to snap along the way
Probably half a mile down the trail Justin still hadn't caught up, and I knew something wasn't right.   Vivian and I turned back to find him. We backtracked quite a ways before we found him limping along at a turtle's pace.  He had some crazy story about running, falling, twisting his ankle, screaming in pain, a snapping noise, and a wave of nausea as he laid in the dirt writhing around in pain before he managed to pull himself together, get back on his feet and start hobbling along down the trail again.

Vivian obviously had to stay on my back for the duration of the hike, so I stopped again to make a few adjustments, and find a suitable walking stick for Justin to help him along.
We had at least two more miles still to go, it was threatening rain, and none of us were equipped to deal with being soaked in 50 degree weather.
The rain clouds looming overhead
Unfortunately we were a pretty slow moving little party.  All the way out Justin would hike behind me making grunting and groaning noises, and when I would turn to ask him how things were going back there he would say something like "I'm fine. It's okay." He delivered these statements in tone that would lead an eavesdropper to believe that it was strange of me to be asking.  A mile or so from the car we started to hear a pack of coyotes, and while they didn't sound terribly close, it's still an unnerving sound when you're in a precarious situation.  The coyotes, sprinkling rain, and a bunch of javelina tracks kept us moving at the fastest pace we could manage (which was not particularly speedy).  We were both ready to be done a long time before we reached the car, and it was a relief to finally arrive back at the trailhead.

On the way back to visitor's center, where incidentally we actually saw a wild javelina, I told Justin that perhaps we should visit an urgent care.
The trip from the car to the sign convinced him that maybe a visit to urgent care was in order.
Predictably he resisted at first, but the pain in his ankle won out and he finally agreed that it might not be a bad idea.  A couple of hours later he was crutching his way out of an urgent care with one of those huge boots on his foot and an x-ray copy of his fractured ankle.  Immediately on return to the timeshare he abandoned the crutches, stripped off the boot and proceeded to limp about doing all sorts of things that he shouldn't have been doing on a broken ankle.

The next morning we woke up late, and had to revisit our plans for the day.  The doctor had repeatedly told him he should spend the day on the couch with his foot elevated.  He never even momentarily took that into consideration.
Prepping for another exciting outing
We had wanted to visit the west district of Saguaro National Park for some morning hiking, visit the Desert Wilderness museum, and tour Biosphere 2.  The hike was clearly out, and Biosphere 2 was eliminated once we learned about the 150+ stairs that are part of the tour, but there was still the desert museum and a scenic drive through the west side of the park.  We were in no rush getting out the door, and Justin reassured me that the museum would be brief, and only cost about $5/person leaving us with money and time to do something else afterwards.  I have no idea where he got this information.  The museum cost $20/person and turned out to be a massive all day affair, with over 2 miles of dirt trails.  After a couple of hours and at least a mile of crutching about Justin looked exhausted, and his exhaustion turned to irritation when he discovered that the snack building had just closed.  The fact that we got to see a live beaver there wasn't even enough to end his rant about the short hours of the snack station.
Although I've been to lots of zoos that claim to have a beaver in residence, this was the first time I've actually seen one.
The museum was actually very cool, we're glad we did it, but I'm not sure that Justin would recommend it to anyone on crutches, and certainly not something to do without bringing along a good supply of snacks.
Near the closed snack station

At the desert tortoise exhibit

Just a nice shot of that absurd little mustache
He sort of collapsed into the passenger seat of the car, and uncharacteristically refused to exit the car again for any of the scenic overlooks and such when we did the scenic drive through the national park before heading back.
*
Just a little something for Meredith that we spotted on the drive back to the timeshare.
The next morning Justin and Vivian sat in the car while I made tons of trips back and forth from our room on the second floor with all of our stuff since Justin wasn't able to help with the loading.  It took forever, but finally we were on our way.  We drove all day and spent the night in a hotel in La Verkin, UT.  The next morning I was the one throwing up at the hotel, and all the way home.  It's not the greatest way to end a trip, and drill the next day was kind of a trying experience, but now we're all seemingly healthy again and trying to figure out a way to budget for another little vacation some time soon.